It smelt like a slaughterhouse in the hut. The flies murmured above the moans of the wounded while the clouds pressed low outside, swollen with summer rains. Sweat ran down the healer's face as he paced back and forth, sweltering in his woollen robes, his feet reddened by the blood that painted the interwoven reed floors. Below the hut he could hear the clash and scrape of steel weapons, the slither of muscular scaled bodies and the hissing rasp of the ophidians calling to each other. The sound of carnage drowned out even the cicadas from the nearby jungle, but nothing could obscure the drone of feasting flies. He stayed until sundown, working until his hands were raw and his robes sodden, pained cries echoing in his ears. When the onslaught began to slow toward evening, the hut was carpeted with moaning bodies, twisting in agony as the jungle sun – fierce even at twilight – baked down upon the roof and the flies crawled in their blood-crusted nostrils. Looking at them, he knew that his work had only been postponing the inevitable. These were the worst wounded, the ones that couldn't be moved; as soon as the ophidians came, winding their sinuous bodies up the house stilts and through the window, these beings would be flesh for the feast. Better just to kill them now, he thought, but he knew that would not do. Humans did not kill for mercy. Juka and gargoyles practiced mercy-killing, and the great winged warriors of the marble island would put a lethal blade through the throat of a fallen comrade to spare them a slow earthbound death – he had seen them, had been taught how to do it - but humans were not like that; they were sentimental, and cruel in their sentimentality. Cruel and foolish. Sometimes he wondered if he had spent too much time in the company of other races to even be considered human anymore. Recognising that there was nothing more than he could do, he quietly left the hut. Humans and ophidians alike discounted him as he made his way across the town, a single dark-robed figure surrounded by clouds of flying dust and whirling blades, moving unhurriedly with his eyes turned toward the overcast sky, moving carefully through the thickly piled mangled corpses. He headed toward the darkening jungle with one hand on his quarterstaff and the other reaching inside his robes, feeling for his spare bandages. A young ophidian lay twisted and curled at the bottom of a ditch near the vine-thick trees. It was a lithe young male, fine-looking even though its autumn-gold scales were dented and encrusted with drying blood. At a glance, he realised that there was nothing that he could do for it; its spine had been broken, its body cleft almost in two, and although it lived still, as cut snakes do, it would not live for long. Without hesitation he walked up to it, knelt beside it and said in the ophidian language, his tongue stumbling on the sibilant syllables, "Let me help you." Its reptilian eyes, as bright as a Trinsic sunset, fixed him flatly and it flicked its bloodied tongue out, tasting his scent on the humid air. He watched it sadly. "What do you want?" it asked finally. "I want…" Pulling away, the healer regarded the chaos that was Papua. Smoke rose over the thatched roofs, staining the sky like a spreading bruise above the massed corpses, and the fading sun shone off splintered bone and shattered weapons; another man fell, young enough to be his son, his dying cry bubbling bloodily on his lips. "…I want this to never happen again," he finished, looking back at the crippled ophidian. It watched him inscrutably, one limp useless hand resting on the shaft of its bardiche. "All this fighting… I want it to stop, I want it to end." Pausing, he added, "But in the meantime, I want to help you." Its tongue flicked again. "You stole our…" "That's not important now," he interrupted. It fell silent. Reaching over, he lightly touched its torn flesh, feeling the broken edges of scales hard and sharp under his fingers; it didn't even flinch. "You can't feel that, can you… your spine is cut. There's nothing I can do. You'll be dead before morning, providing that nothing kills you first…" As he drew back he could feel its vivid slit-pupilled eyes on him. Its breath was raspy with pain. He wished that he could help it, but all that he could offer was an easy death; he would give it that at least. Sosaria was home to many races, and all of them deserved the gift of mercy. Even if nobody else observed that, Vivien would. "I can make it quick," he said. "I'm afraid that's all I can do." Ichor gurgled in its throat as it hissed a laugh. "Blunt, human. I like it." Its severed tail wriggled mindlessly in the ditch like a golden overgrown worm. "I… well, go, then. With my thanks." It coughed, a curious sound coming from a serpent; runny black ophidian blood drooled from its jaws. Nodding, he stood and hefted his quarterstaff. One stroke – that was all it would take. The Juka had taught him how, in his time spent among them. "Don't move. This won't hurt." "Pain! Hah!" A moment before he struck, it twisted to look up at him. Its eyes gleamed with reptilian intellect as it whispered, "Why… why are you helping me?" Vivien paused. He tightened his grip on the quarterstaff, mentally analysing the weak spots of the ophidian's skull, determining where to strike. "I help everybody," he said gently. "But… we are at war… you are human…" "Barely." He smiled. "And we're not so different. We'll all meet on the other side, every one of us – human, elf, ophidian, ogre and all." He raised his staff. "I hope to see you there. Fare well." The ophidian's jaws parted; a serpentine smile. "Thank… you…" He brought the staff down.